Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on a hybrid network that could carry both wired and wireless signals on a single optical fibre. The benefit for enterprise customers would be increased availability of high-speed wired and wireless services - including video, corporate applications and broadband Internet access - at conference centres, airports, hotels, and eventually small offices.

The hybrid network would split into two components the signals being carried on optical fibre into a building. One component would be accessed through standard wall outlets, using a low-cost receiver and optical filter. The other would be picked up by high-speed receivers built into the ceilings of rooms and transmitted wirelessly at between 40 and 60GHz.

Either way, end users would receive data at rates of up to 2.5Gbit/s. And the network would be able to take advantage of wave division multiplexing to carry as many as 32 different channels, each delivering 2.5Gbit/s.

Of course, there are still issues to be ironed out, such as reducing the high cost of components and developing more efficient antenna to deal with in-building interference. But researchers predict that optical-wireless access networks will be deployed within five to seven years.

The scientists are close behind British start-up Zinwave which has also set to launch a technology that carries radio over fibre.